The Rich Man’s Burden And How Andrew Carnegie Unloaded It

PrintPrintEmailEmail

After the appearance of his famous essay Carnegie began in earnest to follow his own dictates. As he had indicated in “Wealth,” libraries were to be his specialty in this early phase of his philanthropic career. After his first two library gifts to Dunfermline and Braddock, in which he furnished not only the library building but provided an endowment for the acquisition of books and the maintenance of the library, Carnegie would give only the building and insist upon the town’s taxing itself for the books and maintenance. He was to make only three exceptions to this rule after having established it: at Duquesne and Homestead, Pennsylvania, and the borough of Carnegie, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Fifty years later, a report on the Carnegie library system by Ralph Munn, which appeared in the Library Journal , showed the wisdom of that rule. The only four libraries in the United States to receive an endowment from Carnegie, Munn reported, “still have exactly the same endowment which he gave them in the 1890’s and the cities have firmly refused to give them any local financial support.”

It was much easier at first for Carnegie to give libraries in Scotland than in the United States, for there were no taxation restrictions on British municipalities. They could tax themselves for the support of libraries, while many cities of the United States could not. Pittsburgh, for example, could not accept Carnegie’s offer to provide a library building in 1881 because the city council ruled that the laws of Pennsylvania did not provide for municipal property-tax assessments to be used to maintain a free library. Shortly thereafter, however, the Pennsylvania legislature specifically provided for tax assessments for libraries, and Pittsburgh quickly requested a renewal of the offer. The renewal came multiplied several times over, for Carnegie now had in mind a great civic center, the Carnegie Institute, which would include not only an imposing library but a great museum, a music hall, and an art institute, located at the edge of Schenley Park.

This was Carnegie’s first great philanthropic endeavor, and in these early days he could still allow himself the luxury of considering almost every detail, from the architectural design of the buildings to the question of nudity in the copies of classical statuary. “I strongly recommend nude to be draped since question has been raised,” he wired W. M. Frew, the president of the Carnegie Library Commission. “Remember my words in speech. We should begin gently to lead people upward. I do hope nothing in gallery or hall will ever give offense to the simplest man or woman. Draping is used everywhere in Britain except in London. If we are to work genuine good we must bend and keep in touch with masses. Am very clear indeed on this question.” For weeks he fussed with Frew about the names that would be carved in stone on the entablature. When he saw the proposed list in the Pittsburgh Dispatch , he exploded to Frew: “I cannot approve the list of names. … Some of the names have no business to be on the list. Imagine Dickens in and Burns out. Among painters Perugini out and Rubens in, the latter only a painter of fat, vulgar women, while a study of the pictures of Raphael will show anyone that he was really only a copyist of Perugini, whose pupil he was. Imagine Science and Franklin not there. This list for Music seems satisfactory. Palestrina rightly comes first. Have been entranced by his works, which we have heard in Rome. As I am to be in Pittsburgh very soon, I hope you will postpone action in regard to the names.”